Is every pit bull a danger to society?
That's the question up for debate this spring at an open forum the City of New Westminster is hosting for the public to provide feedback on the current animal control bylaw.
The wording of the city's current animal bylaw lists certain breeds of dog as "vicious," which has some dog owners in the city feeling their pets are being unfairly singled out.
"It's very upsetting when you're singled out not because of anything you've done but because somebody thinks your stocky short-haired dog falls into this category that requires all this special intervention," said local resident April Fahr, executive director of HugABull Advocacy and Rescue Society.
Last June, Fahr asked city council to amend the bylaw, suggesting the breed-specific wording doesn't work to enforce responsible dog ownership and public safety.
"If a dog is seen displaying aggressive behaviour or has a history of aggression, then at that point we should be looking at leashing or muzzles and those types of actions but based on behaviours and things we know are risk factors, and not by breed alone," she said.
The bylaw, last updated in 2005, states a vicious dog is any dog that has bitten another animal or human without provocation, any dog with a known propensity to attack other animals or humans without provocation, any dog that displays unprovoked aggressive behaviour and any dog listed in Schedule A of the bylaw.
The breeds listed in Schedule A are: pit bull, pit bull terrier, American pit bull terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, cane corso, Italian mastiff, presa canarios, fila Brasileiro and Argentinian dogo.
Fahr said a number of municipalities in B.C. have changed their legislation to remove breed-specific legislation and her group is advocating for New Westminster to do the same.
Several animal-rights advocates attended a city council meeting last spring to show support for making these changes; however, there are some who are wary of legislation that considers all breeds equally capable of vicious behaviour.
At a meeting in September, the city's family court committee voted in favour of forwarding a motion to city council in support of the existing breed-specific wording in the bylaw.
Coun. Betty McIntosh said the committee met again in January to hear from city staff about statistics on dog behaviour in New Westminster, and they want to gather more statistics before moving forward with their original recommendation to maintain the bylaw as it is.
"They actually are quite looking forward to seeing the public forums," she said.
James Doan, the city's supervisor of animal services, said the meetings will offer an opportunity for groups and individuals to give feedback and share information about dangerous dog legislation before council decides whether or not to amend the bylaw.
"Based on what the public wants, at that time we'll submit a recommendation to council," he said. "Right now we're looking at options as to how we can get the public engaged because we don't want to be biased either way."
Doan said no date has been set for the forum, but the city website will post information related to the event online as it becomes available.
For more information, visit www.new westcity.ca.